Stage: Fiddler on the Roof

Village Theatre's production is sweet, solid, and occasionally stolid.

Having avoided Fiddler on the Roof for several decades (owing to an ill-starred high-school production involving a major set mishap and paramedics), I was gratified by this sweet, solid, and occasionally stolid production of the 1964 hit. Based on Sholem Aleichem's stories of imperiled shtetl (village) life in Czarist Russia, Fiddler mines themes that resonate not only with Jews but with any culture struggling to preserve its traditions against modernization/globalization/call it what you will.

When patriarch Tevye (the likable Eric Polani Jensen) gathers with the men of the village to determine his daughter's matrimonial fate, is that so different from the old arranged marriages of India, Africa, Asia, or medieval Europe? Challenged by someone else's new personal freedom, elders' forefingers rise to the reactionary anthem "Tradition!"

Speaking of tradition, the tradition of Chagall-inspired imagery persists in gloriously whimsical, richly colored banners by Julia Franz that counterbalance Cynthia Savage's appropriately drab peasant costumes. Rick Paulsen's lighting casts a sepia glow on the spiritual moments, including "Sunrise, Sunset" and the touching duet "Do You Love Me?" between Tevye and his kvetching wife (the excellent Bobbi Kotula). Harsher rays are cast on confrontations with the career-minded constable (Daniel Reaume) and on Tevye's lurid dream, here animated with a scary, supersized ghost puppet.

Director David Ira Goldstein nicely balances the villagers' fatigue and the energy required for the musical numbers. (Though one expects higher kicks from the dancing Russian soldiers, considering they're not doing physical labor all day.) As Tevye's daughters get with the times, slipping away from his control like sand running through his fingers, so also is his familiar patch of earth yanked from beneath him. He and the remains of his community trudge away on a rotating floor, a mandala of sorts, perhaps toward better things in America—or maybe more rude awakenings.

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